Ensuring disabled people have a seat at every table is a business imperative

To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Katy Talikowska, CEO of disability organisation the Valuable 500, discusses the simple steps that business leaders can take to promote disability inclusion in their organisations

illustration of disability in leadership

Today, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), the world turns its attention to the need for digital access and inclusion for people with disabilities. Yet beyond the customary acknowledgments lies a pressing call for genuine action. While businesses may seize this day as a prompt to contemplate their stance on disability representation, true inclusion demands more than token gestures. It mandates the active engagement of disabled voices at every level of an organisation.

Approximately 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Shockingly, according to our research of 1,000 disabled individuals from across the world, just 2% feel accurately portrayed in media and marketing. Additionally, over 50% encounter barriers when accessing content and products. With an estimated $13tn (£10tn) in annual disability spending power at stake, the need for businesses to authentically engage with this vibrant and diverse community has never been more pressing.

To achieve authentic and inclusive disability representation, disabled people must have a seat at every table, whether it be in the boardroom, the writers’ room, the product development lab or consumer focus groups. The active inclusion of disabled people in such critical decision-making spaces is the only way to guarantee that barriers are identified and addressed, and truly inclusive solutions are developed. Their perspectives, insights, and experiences are invaluable assets that can drive innovation, improve products and services, and foster a more inclusive marketplace for all.

Countless examples demonstrate how improving disability representation has increased innovation and driven revenue, such as the accessible makeup applicator HAPTA from Lancôme, a Valuable 500 company. Tailored for individuals with limited dexterity, HAPTA features stabilised beauty tools designed to mitigate tremors. To launch it, Lancôme used disabled brand ambassadors and inclusive marketing. The consumer response to HAPTA’s innovative design secured its recognition as one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023.

Meaningful progress demands a holistic approach that transforms relationships with the disability community and drives meaningful progress toward a more inclusive society. While the cultural shift towards true disability representation requires time and investment, there are tangible and achievable steps that every company can take to get started.

Build awareness and intent

Develop measurable goals for disability inclusion and secure commitment from executive leadership to prioritise these objectives.

Engage and empower the right people

Initiate the journey towards disability inclusion by collaborating with dedicated Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), leveraging their expertise and insights to inform strategies and initiatives.

Ensure inclusive casting and production environments

Ensure diversity and representation by adopting inclusive casting methods and hiring crew members with disabilities, creating an environment that reflects the richness and intersectionality of the disability community.

Use processes and tools to embed capability

Partner with specialised agencies and utilise technology to facilitate the creation of inclusive content, ensuring accessibility and representation are integrated into product development and marketing campaigns.

Cultivate an inclusive culture

Establish roles dedicated to disability representation and accessibility within the organisation, fostering an inclusive culture where diversity is celebrated, and everyone feels valued and respected.

Measure, test and learn

Define and use metrics to track progress towards disability inclusion goals and gather feedback from disabled stakeholders to refine strategies and initiatives, ensuring continuous improvement and meaningful impact.

Moving beyond mere compliance, embracing disability representation in business opens up myriad opportunities. Integrating accessible experiences, accurate representation, and authentic narratives into organisational cultures allows businesses not only to meet standards but also to embrace and celebrate diversity. This shift fosters true cultures of belonging, enabling disabled individuals to thrive and contribute their talents fully, allowing society to benefit from diversity in its truest form.

Katy Talikowska is CEO of the Valuable 500.